Facebook Should Face Royal Commission into its Online Harms

The Australia Institute's Centre for Responsibility Technology has backed Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's proposal for a high-level review of the public health impacts of Facebook's business model, calling for a Royal Commission into the company's impact on Australian users.

Evidence from an internal whistleblower to the US Senate this week has exposed how Facebook's leadership has ignored evidence of the harms caused to users by its product including:

  • damage to teenage girls caused by Instagram usage
  • coordinated disinformation and misinformation supporting despots and drug cartels around the globe
  • newsfeed algorithms demonstrated to drive anger and division.

"The revelations to a US Senate committee this week position Facebook alongside the tobacco industry and James Hardie in their willful blindness to the health impacts of their products in the pursuit of increasing profits,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

"With 16 million users on Facebook and 11 million on Instagram, the revelations in the US are also of critical relevance to Australians.

"Facebook hides the working of its algorithm, buries internal research and has limited the access to independent researchers. It drives a potent money-making machine but refuses to subject the algorithmic engine to scrutiny.

"It has shown itself hostile to business-as-usual regulation and has been prepared to leverage its power by blocking access to its services – something Australia witnessed firsthand last year.

"In this context an independent inquiry, with full judicial powers of discovery, seems the only appropriate course if we are serious about understanding the health impacts of Facebook’s business model and be able to recommend a comprehensive public health response.”